Microsoft ( MSFT) will spend $500 million on a new marketing campaign aimed at convincing customers that its software will help them build their businesses.

CEO Steve Ballmer announced the campaign at a customer event in New York on Thursday, saying the company's newest software is the fruit of "a $20 billion R&D investment over the past three years that is producing new innovation in a range of categories.

"From business intelligence to the mobile work force, from collaboration to communications, and from CRM to enterprise search, the opportunity for software to deliver even greater customer value is limitless," Ballmer said.

The marketing campaign comes as Microsoft is in the midst of its strongest new product cycle in years. The software giant has already released a new version of its database software, and by the end of this year it plans to launch new versions of Windows and Microsoft Office.

Microsoft calls its vision "people-ready," and Ballmer took some pains to contrast it with the vision of one of its major rivals. ""We're talking about unlocking the potential of each and every employee ... IBM ( IBM) is talking about a project," Ballmer said at a press conference.

The combative CEO was taking a swipe at IBM's services and consulting business, implying that customers don't need that kind of expensive help if they would only switch to Microsoft's products.

Shares of Microsoft were trading up 3 cents to $27.39.

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